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Monday, June 30, 2008

New York Jets By The Numbers: # 25 - Final Acts

Originally founded by Illinois abolitionists, Knox College has sent three players to the NFL in the league's history. Bob Prout, pride of Knox, was its first player to go to the NFL in 40 years. On October 5, 1975, visiting Emperor Hirohito of Japan and John Roche, my father, looked on from separate locations at Shea Stadium while the Jets played against New England in their earliest home game in seven seasons. Jets safety Bob Prout caught an interception and returned it for 10 yards. The game would be one of the three victories the Jets would manage that season, beating the Patriots in an unusual drubbing, 36-7. Do you think Hirohito returned home to the Imperial Palace and reported to his disinterested servants that he had seen the Jets, the greatest of American football teams, whose greatest defensive player was named Prout? Hirohito remained Emperor of Japan until his death in 1989. Dad gave up his season tickets after the 1976 season. Prout's pickoff was the single statistical highlight of his career. In all, he lasted seven games with the Jets in 1975 and is not visible on subsequent NFL records. Bob Prout wore #25 in 1975.

It has occurred to me only now that I haven't even tried to name the best player to play in each number. Every number should have at least one superstar, don't you think? (photo from the NY Daily News) What amazes me is how few genuine superstars have owned our numbers through time. Fodder for a later entry, obviously. Note to self. In the meantime, Kerry Rhodes is the present day owner of the New York Jets #25, and he is probably the closest thing to a star we will find in #25, which is serendipitous, don't you think (honestly I'm not trying to be like Bob Costas)? Having recently signed a five-year deal, Rhodes is a fixture and an admirable one for the Jets. He is an example of how certain players don't make it to the Pro Bowl if they play for teams that are, well, considered the way the Jets are. It will interest if his play will continue to match the extraordinary PR he accrues through his foundational work, magazine covers (i.e., Essence) and canoodling with A to B list stars, like Jennifer Hudson. His website has been rerouted to his present role on the Arizona Cardinals. I liked Kerry Rhodes despite being disparaged by Rex Ryan. He will have more of his day. I believed he was born to play a greater role with Darrelle Revis. But what half-talented corner does not feel this way? Travel on, Kerry Rhodes. Happy trails.

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But a replacement player? Behold an exception to the rule. Usually the strike-year replacement player/scab will play on until the strike is over and will then be summarily dropped from the team. Some, occasionally, will be retained. I remember the list of transactions after the 1987 strike reading like the dead list from the Lusitania. One name among a handful stood out, and not just because he's very nearly the winner of Booth Lustig for #25: George Radachowsky. He was retained by the New York Jets, despite having missed all of the 1986 season. Some of the others retained that year by the Jets included future coach Jim Haslett at linebacker, Dennis Bligen who has been discussed quite cleverly on these pages, Tom Flick and Sean Dykes. OK, but here's the issue. The Pro Football Reference lists EVERY TOUCHDOWN EVER SCORED BY GEORGE RADACHOWSKY, and fortunately for us EVERY TOUCHDOWN EVER SCORED BY GEORGE RADACHOWSKY equals one, against Miami, on September 24, 1989. I was watching the game while staying on a friend's couch in Rhode Island, waiting for my chance to go to England, but I may have been hung over from cheap beer and unrealized sexual plans from the night before, or just drunk on more cheap beer. But I do not recall George Radachowsky returning a failed Dolphins placekick for a touchdown in the first quarter - arguably the most exciting play in football - and yet he did. It was his last great act in his last season with both the Jets and pro football.

"Marshall Starks just sort of wandered into the Jets' lineup." This is what the 1964 Yearbook says about our next #25. Just mosied in. Howdy, Marshall. But what do Marshall Starks and George Radachowsky have common, some 23 years apart? I will tell you. Like the younger replacement player, Starks' only score in his football career came while converting a failed opponent's field goal into a touchdown. Yet in his case, there is not even a record of the event in the Pro Football Reference. Such can be the statistical fate of certain final acts. Alone they are judged too superfluous to become data. But in the context of another player with the same number, these coincidences can seem almost mystical.

Reggie Tongue? Winner of Booth Lustig for Funny Name jersey #25. Instead of winning John Lynch in a free agent struggle, the Jets signed Reggie Tongue, who played for one season for us in 2004. His final act was a season with the 2005 Oakland Raiders, which is not something I would have wished on anyone.

OK, when you think of the name Mel West, do you think an actor from early 1960's TV? Well, close. Certainly, for our purposes, "Mel" has to be a player from the 1960's, doesn't he? Mel Renfro. Mel Farr. Mel Gray. Mel Tillis. See how right it all seems now? Yes, #25 Mel West played for the Titans from 1961-62. He scored three touchdowns for the mighty Tites in the space of a single week in December 1961, and these represented every touchdown he ever scored in the AFL or anywhere in pro football.

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